I get it. Associations are built as resources for members and it’s not always in an organization’s comfort zone to offer free information when there are membership fees involved. However, with the rise in social media and digital content in general, associations that do not embrace this change in information dissemination will miss the mark when it comes to communicating with members, prospecting for new members and sustaining the organization for the long haul.
Social media is a way to connect and develop thought leadership while proving to your members (and prospective members) that you are hip to the digital scene. This year, Millennials will outnumber Baby Boomers, making them the nation’s largest living generation. If this demographic shift is indicative of your membership growth (or lack there of) take note: social media is also a great way to connect with a mix of generations, including the coveted Millennials.
Social media management for associations
Sometimes it’s not just about how to use social media for associations but what tools and practices will help you succeed when doing it. If you know the importance of use social media for your association but lack the tools and resources to execute your strategy effectively, these tips are for you:
Social media has to be a priority for your association. That’s all there is to it. Your success depends on buy-in from executive leaders and the ongoing resources to make it a priority. Take a look at your current marketing tactics and reasonably assess their validity. Are they generating new members? If not, it’s time for a change. And in order to change, social media can’t be seen as a “time waster” or something that you do when you remember to post about your upcoming educational seminar. Social media needs to be at the top of the priority list. Period.
Real-world scenario: The Business Continuity Planners Association made a conscious effort to utilize social media (including a new blog) to engage prospective members and get the word out about industry-related content and events. In just 6 months time, the association had increased its membership and its social media following. Website traffic was the highest it had been due to consistent blog posts and live-tweeting during events prompted prospective members to seek out more information about how to join.
2. Maintain content calendars
My number one tip for anyone (associations included) when it comes to social media management is to utilize a content calendar. These nifty little tools can be lifesavers. Set up your content calendar in a way that makes it easy for you to add content and ideas as they come to you. For instance, if your calendar is set up in Excel, make tabs for each month of the year and columns with specific dates so that you can input upcoming events, conferences, membership drives and other important happenings throughout the year.
Real-world scenario: The Upper Midwest Security Alliance started online without a comprehensive digital strategy. Once the organization implemented consistent use of content calendars, it not only made it easy for committee members to have a stake in the process, it provided a framework for new volunteers each year. And a bonus? The calendar provided clear organization of messaging for the organization and in turn, contributed to triple-digit increases in community engagement online.
3. Use scheduling tools
Social media works best when done in real time, but that isn’t always feasible for associations. And that’s OK. Using a combination of scheduled posts and real-time responses is a great way to keep your social media relevant and consistent. And with your content calendars in play, you’ll be able to keep excellent track of which posts have been scheduled and which you may want to post in real time. There are many social media scheduling tools available, some that offer analytics as well. A few that we like here at Allee Creative include: Hootsuite, Buffer and SproutSocial.
Real-world scenario: Everyone likes to take vacation, right? Whether you’re up for some vacation days, are gone for the weekend, or are caught up in a week-long association event, using scheduling tools ahead of time can ensure your association remains on top of its social media game. However, USE CAUTION when scheduling. You don’t want to become a statistic in someone’s “worst-case social media examples.” Be sure to track (on your content calendar) when and where you’ve scheduled content so that in the event that something happens (ie: a national disaster, change in events, etc.) you can easily unschedule said content.
4. Develop source lists
You have dozens of publications, websites and blogs you visit to gather industry-specific information. These are your starting sources. Use them to your advantage and create source lists of information to pull from when developing content ideas. Your source list should be your go-to and contain information such as the source name, website URL, social media links and additional notes such as if you’re a member of the organization, if they are a partner to your association, etc. Don’t re-create the wheel. It’s OK to see what others are talking about and then put your spin on it or share that information with your members. It builds credibility, trust and though-leadership.
Real-world scenario: We work with a client that puts on a regional conference each spring. Throughout the year, we maintain a source list for the association that contains information such as annual conference sponsors, their Twitter handles, their company blog URLs, member websites and industry-specific websites. Each month, we refer to this updated list as a way to not only gather the most relevant industry information to share on social media platforms, but to have real conversations with the sponsors and members of the event by tagging them in posts and using their social media handles. It shows camaraderie between the association, the conference and its sponsors while also providing followers with relevant, industry-specific information from trusted sources.
5. Track results
When it comes to effectively communicating with your association about social media, upper management is going to want one thing – numbers; numbers that show a return on investment (ROI).
While there are a number of very sophisticated web analytics tools out there that charge a monthly or yearly fee, some of the top ranked web analytics tools are free; a majority of the statistics you need to track can be found on Google Analytics, Twitter Analyics and Facebook Insights – all free to use. Much like your social media content, you can organize your statistics in an Excel document for easy access and comparison of statistics from month-to-month. The easiest way to set up this document is to make a spreadsheet for each channel you are monitoring (website, Twitter, Facebook etc.) and then each row will be a month and each column will be a different measurement (influence, engagement, reach etc.).
Finally, remember that these analytic tools offer you so much more than numbers to put in a monthly report; they offer you insights on what’s working, what’s not and how to better your marketing plan.
Real-world scenario: A few years back, there was a national consulting firm that we worked with that before we came on board, did not track a single piece of their online marketing efforts. Our first priority was to set KPIs (key performance indicators) and a strategy for what we wanted to achieve over the course of 12 months Their ROI was rooted in online brand awareness, engagement and additional company revenue. We were able to successfully track the following because of analytic parameters set in motion: An additional 4,545 unique users to their website and a 700% overall increase in online engagement/actions (mentions, retweets, shared posts, etc.).
If you have read this whole post and still don’t think you have time to successfully manage your social media channels, you are not alone; consultants exist for a reason. Whether you want to hand it all over, get help setting up a social media strategy or have your team trained by experts, there is a social media outsourcing option for you.
Real-world scenario: For many of our clients, we assist in the content marketing strategy process and content creation. For many of our association clients, it’s a joint effort. There is no one-size-fits-all scenario when it comes to outsourcing. But it does provide the benefit of remaining consistent and relevant when it comes to digital content and social media.
Social media is no longer an optional investment for anyone, especially associations. People want to know and understand your brand, your credibility and the value you can provide them before they pay a membership fee. Social media is where Millennials and all other generations turn to in order to learn all of these things about your association. Don’t let them leave your social channels with a bad impression.